Lesson of the Ladybugs Brings Malcolm Beck to Eco Fest...and South Africa, and Mexico, and Canada...
Louis B. Parks
Writer Louis B. Parks shares information from experts about sustainable approaches to life in the Central Texas Hill Country.

More articles by Louis B. Parks:

Working with Nature in Wimberley and the Central Texas Hill Country - Experts Help Show the Way

Oak Wilt: Eric Beckers of the Texas Forest Service on Prevention, Management and Funding for Land-Owners Fighting the Disease


It's a sad tale. Killing ladybugs led Malcolm Beck, founder of Garden-Ville and author of Lessons in Nature, to organic gardening.

A nationally known writer and speaker on organic methods, Beck will host one of many free educational seminars on October 17 at Wimberley Eco Fest 2009.

Coccinellids (Ladybugs) can be key players in natural gardening; many species feed on garden pests.
Photo 2006, Thomas G. Moertel
Decades later, Beck still sounds regretful when he tells about that unintended sacrifice of those beneficial ladybugs.

"Well, I grew up on a farm, and my wife grew up on a farm," Beck says. "When we got married, we bought a little farm southeast of San Antonio. Big, nice place, big live old tree in the front yard, old, old, old, old farm house.  Pecan trees all around the place, creek down there with a water hole and a lot of perch.

"I planted a garden. I wanted to be a modern farmer, so I subscribed to Progressive Farmer magazine. First copy I got there was an article in it about the Colorado potato beetle. It told about all the damage it was doing.

"I went out and looked at my potatoes. They looked good but there were beetles crawling all over them. So I went to the store and got the recommended pesticide. Malathion is what they recommended. I dusted the hell out of those plants. A friend of mine walked up and said, 'Beck, stop, you're killing lady bugs.'

"About 6 or 7 days later my potato plants started looking like hell. When I looked under the leaves, they were solid aphids. I called my friend and he said, 'Yeah, those ladybugs were keeping them in check. Those ladybugs take a long time to reproduce but those aphids have regeneration every seven days.'

That neighbor was not even a farmer, but fortunately for Beck, and for a lot of farmers and gardeners who would learn from Beck over the next few decades, the neighbor subscribed to a magazine called Organic Gardening and Farming. He let Beck have several issues.

"And boy, they made sense," Beck says. Beck began practicing, and then writing about, what he learned, and before long, people started inviting him all over the country, then out of the country, to tell what he'd learned.

"I've been to South Africa, gave talks there, I just got back from Mexico, I gave talks there. Been to Canada.

"All because I killed some good lady bugs."

If you appreciate irony, here's some for you. Malcolm Beck does not like the term "organic."

"It's a bad word," Malcolm says. "I like to use 'nature approved', or 'working with nature' or 'doing it nature's way.' That makes more sense. But everybody says organic."

It's just the word, not the idea, which bothers him: "We do make sure our soil is full of organic materials."

So if you go to hear Malcolm talk on Organic Gardening at noon on October 17 at Wimberley Eco Fest 2009, you'll know what he's really telling you about is Doing Gardening Nature's Way.

"I don't want to tell you how to plant beans and carrots and all that stuff, 'cause that's written on the package," Beck says. "I'm going to tell you stuff that's not written in books. I get into gardening and show you how I garden. I'm very successful at it.

"We need to show people how to make healthy soil to grow healthy food to live a healthy, productive life. The quality of soil determines the quality of life on earth. Even the quality of your brain, how well you think."

(Beck was one of many local and state experts heading free 45-minute sessions at Eco Fest 2009, a day of entertainment and ideas sponsored by CARD, the Citizens Alliance for Responsible Development, a not-for-profit Wimberley area organization of volunteers. CARD has been active in trying to preserve the natural beauty that makes our area so appealing and desirable.)